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Nadayoga and the Seven Steps to Liberation: A Reading of Vemana and Tyagaraja

Mallikarjuna Rao

Kakatiya University

Vol. 1, No. 1, 2016 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/bp.v1n1.01


Naadamu nerigina yogiyu

Modambuna jivunerigi muktiki danou

Naadamu muktipradamani

Saadarumuna janulakella chaatara Vema

(Brown, 2001)

 “The yogi who knows Naada will know with joy the jiva within. So, Vema proclaim to the world that Nada is a means to attain liberation”.

This verse by the early eighteenth century Telugu saint poet Vemana refers to one of the most ancient spiritual practices. The poet says that by merging one’s self into the primeval sound Om which arises from the heart centre, a yogi attains mukti; that is the release from the cycle of birth and death. Saints like Tyagaraja and others to achieve this exalted goal adopted music as a means because true music emanates and dissolves into Om and the ultimate goal of all music according to Bharatiya tradition is God–realization, in other words self-realization.

The basic theme of the Bharatiya culture has never been merely the achievement of material glory however great it was, for the great sages have realized the temporality of material achievements as well as life, which too is materialistic and transient. Life by itself is materialistic, but it is by the ceaseless pursuit of the Ultimate that it is transformed into spiritual. As such the Baratiyas treated life as a sojourn on the earth and tried to discover its purpose and meaning. They considered life, until one attained mukti as a journey that has a starting point and a destination. In a larger perspective, each life for soul is a sojourn on the path of “point of no return”. So, each life makes sense when one discovers its theme and scheme. “The theme unfolds through a plot and each plot has an ending and marks a stage in this pursuit, the seeker adopts different paths and bhakti is one such” (SSS Murty, 1977).    

Geeta gaseema yogasyat

Yogaadeva Sivaikyata

Geetagnow yadi yogena

Sayati Parameswaram.

(Sootha Samhita)

“By practicing the great yoga of music, a man is able to merge in Paramasiva. With the help of yoga of musical knowledge (Nada Yoga), a man is being redeemed.”

Yogis like Vemana practiced Hathayoga, which consists of two “Upa Yogas” (supplementary yogas); they are Mantra yoga and Laya yoga. Laya yoga is also known as Nada yoga as it deals with sound. While in the former the Sadhaka (practitioner)  practices the chanting of a mantra both outwardly and inwardly, so deeply and so intensely that he/she gets absorbed in it, in the latter the body and soul are cleansed by Pranayama (breath-control) and meditation (dhyana) respectively, and the nada, the sound is constantly heard from inside. (RA Sarma, 2010)

A yanahatanada mentayu nudbhutambayi yaatmalo

Mroyuchundu nirantarambu samudraghoshamubhangi bhrum

Gayatatdhvani riti, venusamanchita swaralila, vee

Nayatambagu mrota chandmunan manolayahetuvai.   (Sivayoga: 3)

“The ‘anahata’ nada, which keeps ringing in the heart ceaselessly like the tumult of the sea, like the drone of the bee, like the melodious notes of the flute, like the magical notes of the lute, remains as the cause of the mind’s dissolution or merger with the Ultimate.”

In the Bharateeya tradition, many of the bhaktas pressed music into service to achieve their spiritual goal. The names which immediately come to our mind in this context are Tyagaraja, Annamacharya, Purandara and a host of others from the South, Meera, Surdas and many others from the North.

Lord Krishna who is described as “Yogeeswara”, that is the lord of the Yogis, proclaims in the  Gita that He is the Samaveda among the Vedas, Indra among the Devas, mind among the senses, and also the power that pervades the elements”(1 0:22). The origin of Indian music is generally traced to the Sama Veda. So the lord proclaims in the Gita that he is the Sama Veda among the Vedas. He also declares that He is the Pranava, Om that pervades all the Vedas (7:8). The Lord claims that He is the Nadaswaroopa, the personification of the Nada. As such the upaasana of the nada is His upaasana and merger into Om is a merger into Him that is mukti. Hence yogi Vemana says that nadopasana is a path to mukti.

Nada yoga is a discipline of sound which leads one to Nada Brhaman, the eternal, Supreme Consciousness, a luminous, pure vibration. To quote Vemana again:

Nadabinduvulanu nadambugajesi

Nadabindu kalala nadambuganu

Jesi nadamarachi chintimpa yogambu. (Brown, 2001)

“Coverting the nada and the bindu into a single nada and again blending nada, bindu and kala into a single nada and thereby paying it attention with the utmost concentration is the true yoga” (Tr. Mine). WJ Jackson offers an interesting interpretation of this verse. He observes: “Vemana described the cosmological evolution of the gross from the subtle in a specific series of changes. First light, then cosmic sound, then atoms (or ‘atomic soup’ as some call it) then heaven and earth. “The primal vibration (nadam) emanates from the light (jyoti), the fine particles (bindu) emerge from the nadam; and from the primordial particles earth and heaven are born” (256). He finds this parallel between modern science and Hindu intuition very remarkable.

Converting nada into bindu is to seek the source of the nada, that is bindu which according to Hindu scriptures is situated in the heart centre, the spiritual heart which is on the right side. Nada is only a path, the pursuit of which helps one merge into the bindu. To convert kala and bindu into a single nada is to retain one’s self, which is conative even while it is lost into the bindu. This, in other words, is Sahaja Samadhi. This is a mystical phenomenon to which any explanation is a poor substitute. The above experience, which can be described as Nada Yoga, leads one to Nada Brahman, consciousness, which is transcendental, eternal, pure, and luminous. The yogi by meditating on Omkara arising from the Anahata Chakra meditates on it as we can see in the verse from Vemana.

Mundakopanishad states thus: Om is the bow. The Atman inside is the arrow and the Brahman is the target.  With unswerving mind if one concentrates on the target and hits, like the arrow in the target one becomes part of the Brahman” (II: 4)   These lines from the Upanishad clearly point out that with Om as an instrument one can reach the Brahman. The Maandukyopanishad speaks about the all-pervasive, transcendental nature of Nada that is Omkara: “The phenomenal world is Omkara. Whatever existed in the past or present or exists in future is also Omkara” (I: 1)

It is in this context what Krishna said in the Gita assumes greater significance. The Sama Veda renders the Rigvedic mantras musically thereby emphasizing the role played by the all-pervasive Nada. By chanting the Sama Vedic Mantras one is not only able to visualize the devas described in the mantras, but also establish a mystical harmony with the all-pervasive Nada. This quintessentially is Nada Yoga and it helps one transcend the individual to merge in the Universal. When Krishna says that He is Sama Veda perhaps what He means is that He is a yogi and that He is all-pervasive. But some commentators opine that since He loves music or belongs to Sama Veda Sakha (Samaveda sect), He has called Himself Sama Veda among the Vedas. In the Vishnu Purana it is said, “All songs are a part of Him who wears the form of sound.” Sarangadeva’s treatise on music Sangeeta Ratnakara (13th century) suggests that the worship of Nada Brahman is a way to liberation: “We worship the Nada Brahman (Divine sound), the life all beings, transformed in the shape of the world, the sentience, the bliss”. (Jackson, 1993) A shloka from the legendary Swararnava (an Ocean of musical notes) describes the divine nature of music thus: “In the centre of the body is the prana; in the centre of the prana is dhvani; in the centre of dhvani is nada; in the centre of nada is Sadasiva, the Supreme Lord” (Jackson, 1993).

The practice of Nada Yoga is very complex and calls for a rigorous spiritual practice. Its origin can be traced back to the Vedas. Chanting of Vedic mantras with proper stress and intonation was greatly emphasized. Even to this day this holy and hoary tradition is kept alive. It is believed that without the correct chanting of the mantra it would not yield any result. The significance of the Bijaksharas (seed sounds) can be appreciated fully if we understand this fact. The musical sound or nada is the form and at its centre we have the Supreme godhead, Sadasiva. “Only by sound is the non-sound [that which transcends sound] revealed” (Maitri Upanishad) ( Jackson, 1993).).

The great Sanskrit poet Kalidasa with a slight modification embodied this profound concept in his famous invocatory shloka to his kavya, Kumarasambhavam.

Vaagrtha viva sampruktou Vagartha pratipatteye

Jagatahpitarou vande Parvatiparameswarou.

In this shloka, Kalidasa describes the goddess mother Parvati (prkriti) as the form and Siva as the meaning. While Vak, the sound or Nada is manifest, Siva, the Brahman is the unmanifest and Siva is revealed through Parvati. A sound manifests in the form of vibration and vibration is the quality or characteristic of Akasa or ethereal space. “The Anahata sabda is eternal and all pervasive, mysterious ringing of infinite space, from which secondary transitory sounds come into being. Everything in existence has its own share of imperishable sabda, which is the subtle aspect of its vital principle or life energy” (Jackson, 1993). That is why letters in the Alphabet in Indian languages are called Aksharas (imperishables). Nada has no death and it exists in all times, the past, present and the future; the Aksharas or sounds are part of nada and they are its manifestations.

When we think of yogis who have adopted the path of music, Nadopasana or Nadayoga to attain liberation, the one who comes to our mind immediately is Tyagaraja, the South Indian composer saint. Jackson says that knowledge of music and devotion to Tyagaraja  is sine qua non to liberation (122): “Is there liberation on earth for those who are not enlightened, nor having true bhakti, nor the musical wisdom? (Mokshamu galadaa bhuvilo jivanmuktulu kaanivaralaku sakshtkara nee sadbhakti sangeetajnana viheenulaku?).” Further, for Tyagaraja “one who fails to swim in this sea ‘which is called musical wisdom’ leads a useless life and wastes his human birth , becoming ‘a mere burden to the earth’…Full Text PDF